With interactive multimedia, a fight to keep great storytelling relevant -- online

A 30-year veteran of magazine publishing ditches the good life to dive headfirst into interactive multimedia storytelling. TIME magazine? Meet FLYPmedia.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

Thanks to the explosion of computers, the Internet, portable media players and even mobile phones, it's easier than ever to tell someone a story.

Written on a page. Spoken on an iPod. Scripted in a video. Produced in a streaming interactive medium such as Adobe Flash.

The challenge is telling the right people the right story in the right way.

That's the hurdle Jim Gaines is facing. With more than 30 years of working in the media under his belt, this former editor of Time, People, Newsweek and Life is using a new site, FLYP (pronounced "flip") as his laboratory for revolutionizing the way people experience stories -- with technology afforded by the Internet.

I sat down with FLYPmedia's editor-in-chief to discuss how his publication is "more than a magazine."

SmartPlanet: Tell me how FLYP came to be.

Jim Gaines: It began with Harry Potter movies. The particular moment when Harry Potter and his friends were in the library, took a book down from the shelves and opened it and a face flew out -- I thought, this is how journalism should be. Stories should be leaping off the pages at you.

From Indigo Media, FLYP was born.

The first time I saw it, I was living in Paris writing books. Immediately, when I saw it, I thought, "This is supposed to be what I should do now."

I left magazine journalism and became an author and consultant, always with one foot out the door. What I really am is not so much a magazine editor as a storyteller. I'm trying to get stories off the page.

FLYP just invited me into a different world of storytelling.

SmartPlanet: You came late to the Web, at 62 years old. Tell me how it's different from the national magazines you used to edit.

JG: For one thing, magazines are very hierarchical. This is very flat, and it has to be. At a magazine, it was pretty much top-down. Here, when we have an idea, we have to get the various disciplines together -- photographer, videographer, editor, reporter -- and think about how we can tell a story.

When you start thinking about it, text is not the most the important element. It's really a navigational device that leads people through the media.

[The Web] much more collaborative and exciting. It's really much more fun.

The thing I most missed when I left Time Inc. was working with people. As an author and a consultant, you're always very alone. This is very much not alone. You're working with people and making collective decisions. That I think is the most significant difference.

I'm called the editor-in-chief, but there's a videographer-in-chief and an animator-in-chief and designer-in-chief. It really is a joint effort, and it always will be.

There's a model in journalism schools now of the person with the camera and video camera and notepad -- a one-man band. It just doesn't work that way. It's really people operating in areas of comfort and efficiency.

It's like jazz. You all kind of stimulate each other. And it turns out better than anything you could have done yourself. When a video editor makes a great piece, it changes the story. When an animator does a great animation, it's the same effect. It raises the game.

We think about who's got the best stuff, and how do we play that.

We're admirers of MediaStorm.

SmartPlanet: Tell me how you're translating that monthly magazine experience into multimedia storytelling.

JG: We have been doing bi-weekly issues and thinking about it in terms of an issue. It's really not a magazine, it's a proof-of-concept experiment in storytelling. We're not here to be the next general interest magazine. I'm pretty sure I can see lots of verticals in what we do.

It presents wonderful opportunities of visual transformation of print properties.

I still believe that publications can aggregate audiences that advertisers really want. The audience will pay to be there, and the audiences will pay to get them there.

We need a whole new vocabulary. There are publications that are in print that don't need to be in print and could be much more exciting in a digital frame.

Southern Accents closed a week ago, and I'm horrified that a magazine with 400,000 in circulation, a loyal base of readers, and still-there advertisers wouldn't keep them there. Renew it online, give them a product that's better than what you gave them before. Just save your brand.

It's time and expense to a publisher and the environment for a printed product.

It's a lot like what the music industry is facing. We just did a music issue with Warner Music. Nonesuch Records opened its archives to us.

SmartPlanet: Let's talk about rich media advertising.

JG: The problem of advertising on the Web and pricing is supply and demand. Supply is so great, it has to be a commodity, and commodity pricing forces prices down.

With rich media, it's different. Louis Vuitton did an ad around the Apollo anniversary -- that was great storytelling. These great pieces of advertising have no places to exist but clients' sites. Our publication gives them a place.

Take "C-Suites," [a video series] sponsored by IBM, on Fortune.com. That's a way for IBM to use rich media advertising on Fortune's site. IBM is thrilled with the result. Rich media advertisers will be thrilled that the site is consistent with their creative.

The key attribute is engagement. The Web, in a lot of places, encourages surfing. You want a sticky environment. Rich media advertising does that in spades.

SmartPlanet: Once you've got the eyeballs, how do you monetize them?

JG: We've never been tasked to actually monetize. Now we're reaching out for partnerships and we're trying to execute a business plan. We see ourselves as a cross-product category, multimedia publishing company that does magazines and books and textbooks and annual reports and music and films and things like that.

Our [user] time [spent] on-site is really good, but we're really no more than in kindergarten. It's a very steep learning curve.

[Adobe] Flash, as good as it is, has serious limitations. We're not as interactive as we could be. It is time-intensive, so there's a lot of stuff we do sub-optimally.

But people spend a lot of time on our site, so we're doing something right.

It's about getting the user by the lapels and getting the story. That's our core competency, and we've gotten a lot better at it.

It's about asking: How do you get people to sit down and experience the story before them? How delicious can you make the meal, and how can you wave it under their noses and make their mouth water while you're doing it?

I remember when Time first did color pictures, and it just felt revolutionary. And then I looked back on it, and it looked like a relic. [The magazine] has gotten to more and more picture-based.

The Web is going multimedia. It's manifest destiny. It's not a passing fancy. It's a question of how fast people get there and how fast the software moves to keep up.

SmartPlanet: Are you thinking about mobile at all?

JG: We're not able to do the kind of storytelling we want to do on the mobile platform. But it's right around the corner.

There's going to be a ubiquitous, very portable device that's going to run full video. An Apple tablet -- it's just obvious it's going to happen.

SmartPlanet: So it's just a matter of focusing on storytelling, and letting technology pave the way.

JG: We have the wind at our backs. It's not just us -- there are going to be a lot of people in this field.

It really comes back to the content.

You can't get a business right without getting the content right. That's just a fact. It has to be something people really want -- something they feel they can't live without. The bar for that isn't as high as what everybody's thinking.

A good story is real easy to get people with. You do have to have a good story.

I applaud experiments. We need it all. We'll find out what works.

Editor's Note, April 19, 2010: FLYP Media announced today that its magazine would shutter operations.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards